Cinque Terre

Evan and I overslept. We had gotten back to our hotel in Milan well after midnight after the football game. I didn’t set an alarm. I woke up with a start at noon.

Jaime and co had gotten downstairs for breakfast but then when we didn’t show they went back up to rest. It was drizzling and gray and Evan and I walked across the street to the Esselunga supermercati and bought ourselves some fresh croissants, fruits, and something that Evan picked up. After having eaten enrobed (chocolate dipped) Oreos in Iceland, Evan continued his experimentation with this niche haute cuisine. He bought branded Oreo donuts covered in crushed Oreo with a ring of white Oreo goop inside. They weren’t very good.

We eventually got underway and walked around the Duomo. We found a Venchi store where we loaded up on chocolates. Evan wanted to shop for suits in the Galleria (the original mother of all gallerias, built a 150 years ago), but I told him to look at the prices and he unhappily changed his mind. I do believe that if he gets his shit together, Evan will be back to Milan one day to buy himself a suit or two.

We got on the road and Jaime followed the autostrada south towards Genova on the coast. After crossing the flat agricultural and industrial heart of Lombardy we eventually entered the Ligurian alps about an hour outside Genova. We drove past many small mountain towns that looked mostly deserted. On a whim Jaime took an exit and we explored the beautiful tiny comune of Isola del Cantone nestled on both banks of the Scrivia river. A few lighted windows and an occasional tendril of smoke curling up from a chimney indicated the village had a small number of residents. The kids crossed an ancient pedestrian bridge and walked over to a church next to a cemetery with eerie glowing electronic candles while Jaime and I drove to the next motorable bridge and met them on the other side. We talked about Italy’s demographic shift and the problem with keeping small villages and towns going. Many places give homes away for a single Euro to try to lure young people to return and invest and raise a family in these places.

We got into Genova well after dark and left next morning – just long enough to give us a vague impression of a vibrant working city built on high hills and deep river valleys reaching down to a big port. The highways in and out of Genova are engineering marvels consisting almost entirely of tall bridges and tunnels. This is where the Morandi bridge collapsed in 2018 killing 43 people both on and below the bridge. A new sleek (and hopefully stronger) replacement bridge was designed by hometown architect Renzo Piano and was operational in record time. We left Genova under a light drizzle on E80, the Trans European highway that connects the Atlantic coast of Portugal with the Turkish-Iranian border. Jaime was driving and that gave me a lot of time to look around. The kids rested in the back. The city gave way to green tree covered mountains and small colorful villages shrouded in low clouds.

After about an hour we exited the very modern high bridges and tunnels of E80 into a different world. Except for cars and light poles and an occasional Piaggio three-wheeler, the Ligurian coast is frozen in time. We drove along the twisted narrow road hugging the jagged coastline past the beautiful villages of Bonassola and Lavento to eventually set our eyes on the village on Monterosso al Mare, the first of the Cinque Terre villages when you approach from the north. Our hotel asked us to park at the village center and presently a car from the hotel came by to get us. Soon I understood why. This guy deftly drove us up narrow pedestrian paths cantilevered out over the deep blue waters below with inches to spare on either side, and deposited us at the Hotel Porto Roca. This is the view from my balcony.

We quickly dropped off our luggage and got on the sentiero or walking path to Vernazza, the second of the Cinque Terre villages. The internet told us it would take 90 minutes, and the man collecting toll (cash only) looked us up and down and said “two hours”. We didn’t hurry. The boys horsed around and joked and stopped often and Jaime stopped even more often to take photos of everything, so we were surprised when we arrived in Vernazza less than 50 minutes later. It is only 2 miles from Monterosso, but there are a lot of steps and walking along narrow ancient rock retaining walls. In the photo below you can see Vernazza around the second corner, a bit of the village of Corniglia up on the cliffs above and past Vernazza, and eventually Manarola, the fourth of the Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore, the last village is tucked in a bay behind Manarola before the last point of the coastal hills slopping into the Ligurian sea. If I look back from here I can still see Monterosso. So there you have it, all five famous villages a little over 5 miles from each other as the crow flies.

We walked down into Vernazza. Evan got a gelato. I ordered some tuna crudo from a little place and the Russian proprietor explained that she had traveled all over India several times before settling in Vernazza years ago. The tonno had been fished out of the waters outside the marine protected area around Cinque Terre a few hours ago. It was fresh enough to slap. We parted ways with Jaime & co who continued on the sentiero to Corniglia. Evan and I were lazier and we hopped on a train to Riomaggiore and after walking around a bit we returned to Monterosso the fast way. We dipped our feet at the beach in the cool clear waters of the Mediterranean, drank a cold birra and a Sprite, and went back to our hotel to enjoy the view from the balcony and his iPad in bed respectively.

At an awesome sunset we met the rest of our party for dinner and turned in for the night with the balcony door open. The faint sounds of the sea from the cliffs below lulled me to sleep while I pondered about life, the universe, and how AI can be used to automatically create short-form video stories.

I recollected all this and put it in the blog the day after we returned to Austin. My jet lagged brain woke up at 2am. It turns out that I can write a lot of unfocused shit when there are five hours to kill before anyone else is up.

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